There is always a certain alchemy of art and science when it comes to booking the lowest airline fare. The subtle dance between passenger and airline evolves most years, but as we look forward to restarting g travel, this year having a strategy will be even more important. So these are the best airfare booking hacks for 2021.
For the last six years Expedia has published the ARC report, which analyzes billions of flight segments which gives us great insight into price, bookings and other data.
So What Happened Last Year?
Based on ARC data, average ticket prices (ATPs) for domestic flights hit their lowest in late April 2020 but have since started to recover. From May to October, prices were between 25-35 percent lower year-on-year but followed the usual seasonality curve. Meanwhile, ATPs for international flights briefly spiked in April before normalizing to 2019 levels in mid-June and finally settling between 30-35 percent lower year-on-year during the fall months.
And What Can We Learn For This Year?
What this means for travelers is that while average ticket prices are historically low for both domestic and international flights, prices rise during peak travel periods such as spring break, summer and the holidays. To get the best deal, travelers need to know when to book and start their trip.
- Best day of the week to book: Sunday
- For domestic flights, book on Sunday, not Monday to save around 15 percent
- For international flights, book on Sunday, not Friday to save more than 20 percent
- Best day of the week to depart: Thursday or Friday
- For domestic flights, start your trip on Friday, not Monday to save around 20 percent
- For international flights, start your trip on Thursday, not Sunday to save nearly 25 percent
What Are Traveler’s Priorities in 2021
- Flexibility isn’t a “nice-to-have”, it’s required: In 2021, flexibility will continue to be top of mind for travelers, who booked refundable rates 10 percent more often this year compared to last. Luckily, flexibility is more affordable than ever: Expedia lodging data shows average daily rates for refundable bookings were 20 percent cheaper in 2020 compared to 2019.
- Health and safety advancements: In the year to come, concerns about staying safe while traveling will continue to impact every aspect of trip planning, from what type of accommodations to choose to where to go to who to travel with. Since May, nearly 300,000 properties have added health and cleanliness information on Expedia.com, including enhanced cleaning, contactless check-in, social distancing and other guest safety measures.
- Majority of travelers booking less than a month out: According to ARC data, in 2019, the average U.S. traveler booked flights around 35 days in advance of their departure date, but during the onset of the pandemic, that window lengthened to 46 days. The new normal (since August) is just 29 days out – the average advance purchase dropping below the 30-day mark for the first time in years – and illustrating how travelers have adapted to the rapidly changing environment. However, with airlines eliminating change fees travelers may feel more confident booking further out, knowing they can always change their plans down the road.
- Growth in alternative accommodations: While the most popular lodging type in 2020 was hotels, the types of accommodations showing the biggest growth compared to last year were castles, ranches, cabins, chalets and cottages. These types of retreats, typically found outside of big cities, were the perfect getaway spots for travelers in search of wide-open spaces, nature and privacy. This trend is expected to continue as people look to travel safely amid the pandemic. Whether it’s a hotel, vacation rental or chalet, Expedia lodging data shows the cheapest days to stay are Sunday through Tuesday, so try scheduling a long weekend trip at the start of the week instead of the end.4
- Maximizing the trip: During lockdown, many travelers relied on virtual tours and activities to satisfy wanderlust. But once able to roam again, whether it was just within their own cities or on a proper getaway, travelers resumed looking to activities as a way to get the most out their trips. These are a few of the top trending activities booked on Expedia.com: the nation’s largest and longest-running flower show, this boat tour in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and this ATV and ziplining adventure in the Cenotes.